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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Help our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico

Residents in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, receive food and water from volunteers and police Thursday. Since Hurricane Maria, aid has been slow in getting to the island.
Residents in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, receive food and water from volunteers and police Thursday. Since Hurricane Maria, aid has been slow in getting to the island.
Published Sep. 29, 2017

Floridians and Puerto Ricans are all Americans —and our federal government is failing Puerto Rico in its greatest time of need. The island remains devastated by Hurricane Maria amid growing concerns about a humanitarian disaster. This cannot become another epic failure resembling the debacle following Hurricane Katrina, and the Trump administration has to continue to ramp up relief efforts.

There should be more help and less spin coming from Washington. The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital city, said Friday the situation has been worsening with severe shortages of food, water and fuel. Residents are waiting hours for ice and walking miles to fill gasoline cans. Relief supplies are sitting on docks because there are not enough trucks to take them to the hardest-hit areas. There is virtually no electricity and little phone service. No wonder San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz criticized acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke's characterization of the federal response as a "good news story'' and declared later Friday, "We are begging.''

President Donald Trump continued to defend the administration's response Friday, and FEMA officials said ports and airports are functioning better and more miles of highways are being reopened. But a comparison of the response timelines to Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 and to Maria in Puerto Rico now are not particularly favorable. Sen. Marco Rubio asked Trump this week to put the military in charge of the recovery effort, and as Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted, "Where is the cavalry?''

Florida and Tampa Bay are particularly vested in helping Puerto Rico. More than 1 million Puerto Ricans live in Florida, including nearly 115,000 who live in Hillsborough County. There are plenty of heartbreaking stories of families here waiting to hear more from relatives on the island. This state could wind up receiving thousands of Puerto Ricans — U.S. citizens — fleeing the American territory, and Gov. Rick Scott visited the island this week and discussed his trip with Trump on Friday.

Helping Puerto Rico recover following this deadly hurricane is going to take additional members of the military, billions in federal aid and robust charitable efforts. The urgency and the commitment should be no less for Puerto Rico than it would be for Florida or any state. We are all Americans.